LAFAYETTE — The Centaurus boys basketball team ended one long drought for the program a year ago, and another over the weekend. And one more bit the dust on Wednesday night.
In 2018, the Warriors won a state playoff game for the first time since 2010. On Saturday, they earned a spot in the Class 4A Sweet 16 — also for the first time in nine years. And they followed that up on Wednesday in exhilarating fashion by advancing to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.
In a Sweet 16 game at Centaurus, ninth-seeded CHS fended off 25th-seeded Thomas Jefferson 62-60, leading to a mass of students and players celebrating together on the court afterward.
"It's incredible," said senior co-captain Nick Vaver, who scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half and blocked two shots in the third period. "I think our whole team is so proud to represent our school in the (Great 8) and show what we're made of and make a name for ourselves."
It was the sixth straight victory for the Warriors, who improved to 18-7 on the season. As a reward, on Saturday in the 4A quarterfinals, they'll travel to Monument to face undefeated and top-seeded Lewis-Palmer, which throttled Greeley Central 75-19 on Wednesday.
This is rarefied air for Centaurus, which is in the midst of its first winning season since 2009-10.
"It was a great atmosphere tonight, a great game back and forth," said fourth-year coach Travis Maron. "That's what you want high school basketball to be about."
The Warriors led most of the way on Wednesday, but TJ rallied from eight behind to go ahead by four in the first half. Then after the game was tied at 26 at halftime, junior Owen Koonce scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the third quarter to put CHS up again by eight, only to see Thomas Jefferson surge back into another tie early in the fourth period.
And even after Centaurus went up 60-54 with 19 seconds remaining in the game, TJ threw one last scare into the Warriors, hitting two 3-pointers sandwiched around two free throws by CHS senior Joe Lynch. But after the two teams combined for 47 points in the fourth quarter, time ran out on the Spartans, who finished the season 15-11.
"We really came together in the second half and made it happen," Koonce said. "Rebounds were really crucial, keeping them off the glass, and just our defense in general.
"It's really awesome (to advance to the final eight). We have a team full of seniors, so it's really great to keep going."
Besides Koonce and Vaver combining to score 31 of Centaurus' 36 second-half points, free throw accuracy played a major role in the outcome. The Warriors knocked down 18 of 23 from the stripe, while TJ was 5-of-13.
Whatever awaits on Saturday at Lewis-Palmer, Maron had a look of pride — along with a big smile — after Wednesday's contest.
"To build a good program, to build a culture, to do it the right way, and to see it translating (into success) right now is really, really special," he said. "The kids deserve all the credit. They put it on the line on the court."
Centaurus 62, Thomas Jefferson 60
At Centaurus HS
THOMAS JEFFERSON (15-11)
Moe 6 0-1 15, Abbey 4 0-2 8, Taylor 4 2-4 10, L. Cecil 4 1-4 9, Pregnon 0 0-0 0, Mugisha 2 0-0 5, Hornbuckle 5 2-2 13, Shunneson 0 0-0 0, Goldman 0 0-0 0. Totals 25 5-13 60.
Sugianto 1 0-1 2, Rubin 2 0-2 5, N. Vaver 4 6-7 15, Koonce 8 9-9 28, Totel 4 1-2 10, R. Vaver 0 0-0 0, Godard 0 0-0 0, Lynch 0 2-2 2. Totals 19 18-23 62.
Score by quarters:Thomas Jefferson 8 18 10 24 — 60
3-point field goals -- TJ (5): Moe 3, Mugisha, Hornbuckle; Centaurus (6): Koonce 3, Rubin, N. Vaver, Totel. Total fouls -- TJ 18, Centaurus 14. Fouled out -- none.